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Finding right balance is a challenge for digital signage partnerships

It’s not surprising to see digital signage proliferating at retail, where it is relatively easy to delineate the linkage between signage and sales lift. Figuring out the payback for other applications can be more challenging, though still worthwhile, said industry veteran Brad Gleeson. This is the second part of Digital Signage Update’s interview with ActiveLight’s president and COO, who also helped found the Digital Signage Group Gleeson co-chairs at the not-for-profit Point-Of-Purchase Advertising International (POPAI).

Digital Signage Update: How valuable are partnerships proving to be in driving growth of digital signage beyond the retail setting, such as at airports?

Brad Gleeson: There’s certainly an interest in public-private partnerships to rationalize the capital expense of signage networks. It can be a challenge to balance the profitability versus the requirements of the real estate owner. In transportation applications, for instance, the requirements of the transit authority often are so progressive, grandiose even. They want real-time information, current events, weather – and the amount of time that’s left for advertisers to generate revenues is cut in half. Folks will tell you they’re not making money in those applications. It may be a struggle to get to the ideal public-private partnership.

DSU: If the signage application must generate revenue, what makes it successful?

Gleeson: The money is at the media. You have to have the ad sales model to make it work. That’s why the Liberty Medias and Viacoms and ClearChannels are saying we need to stake our claim because this is our business – we sell public space advertising. The ad sales guys really have the business model to make that advertising-based revenue model work. There’s great complexity and cost in selling those ads – the renewals, the residuals, that’s tricky. But the beauty of digital signage is it’s a heck of a lot closer to the transaction than just about any other media you can think of. So if you can deploy signage effectively, you ought to be able to see the needle move.

DSU: You hear a lot about linking signage content to consumer behavior and triggering displays based on certain conditions. How important is this?

Gleeson: The risk of our industry right now is over-promising and under-delivering. For years people have promised the linkage of point-of-sale and signage and inventory — advertising shorts and cold beer on a sunny day and putting out coats and galoshes on a cold day. I try to get people to slow down, back up, and ask “is that what you’re doing it for?” It’s great to advertise the McDonalds closest to the subway station, and that’s not rocket science. But I think we need it to be more routine — it shouldn’t be big news when a supermarket decides to invest in digital signage.

DSU: Where are the growth opportunities for digital signage over the next year or two?

Gleeson: Retail is really important. That’s where the money will be made, so for the most part, that’s where the most attention and money will go. But what’s also interesting to me is to find the stuff in the gaps. Government and public information-based applications are interesting opportunities. On the corporate communications side, companies can use displays to communicate to non-desk workers in factories and other environments. This will grow because companies increasingly recognize the importance of getting critical information out to their workforces.

I’m also intrigued by digital signage in temporary situations. Yahoo! installed touch-screen plasma displays in bus stations to advertise local mapping and information services. They measured results based on how many national news stations picked up the story. We really haven’t yet scratched the surface of all the ways we can deploy this technology to accomplish some uniform information communication. There are lots of new ways and wrinkles, so it will be interesting to see what sticks around as opposed to what turns out to be a novelty.

To read Part I of this interview, check out Signage proliferating at all levels.

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